Art Deco Rigoletto

Even if you’ve never seen the opera Rigoletto, you are most likely familiar with the Verdi work by its famous, hummable aria, “La donna è mobile,” heard everywhere from TV commercials to Italian restaurants. While I had the chance of watching a Rat Pack, neon-bedecked, “Vegas” Rigoletto during the Met’s free streaming at the time of their shutdown, I still felt the need to see the opera “in person” at the theater, this time set in the Weimar Republic of the 1920’s. Talk about a departure from 16th century Mantua !

Michael Mayer’s “Vegas” Rigoletto
Bartlett Sher’s “Weimar” Rigoletto

What struck me the most about the new Bartlett Sher Rigoletto were the parallels to Sher’s Met production of Otello: blocky sets that felt closed off to the audience and gave the appearance of hazardous movement among the singers (watch out for the columns !). Another exasperating comparison was the inability to distinguish the lead characters from the rest of the crowd. Both the Duke in Rigoletto and Otello wore the clothes of their compatriots, with little, insufficient distinction. The costumes for the men looked to be the same in both productions ─ perhaps the budget was snug ? Overall, I felt the Weimar production was too garish and dark and was left questioning… “What’s wrong with 16th century Mantua ?!”

I always knew what I would wear before I ever had a 20’s themed opera to attend. A few years back, a friend gave me a vintage black cashmere sweater with a cream fur collar and rhinestone buckle at the waist. The tag indicated its pedigree: “100% Cashmere, Made in Scotland.” It was an instant love affair. Musing over the garment brought to mind the Silent Film era and its actresses I had seen in movies. My vision of a pale pink charmeuse gown and a black wool cloche was the surest way to bring the sweater’s former glory back into the limelight. A flapper would agree…

Louise Brooks
Louise Brooks
Anita Page

Since I knew that I was going to wear a cashmere sweater, the last thing I wanted was a long sleeve dress. That narrowed down the field of patterns. Ultimately, Folkwear’s Tango Dress fit the bill of a sleeveless, Art Deco design for my Silent Film Star look. Mary Pickford, here I come !

Folkwear’s Tango Dress

Silk charmeuse and a gorgeous wool suiting tangoed their way to 1920’s perfection ! This was my first time making a real hat, not one out of cardboard or headbands. A silk taffeta band decorated the supple cloche. With expensive fabrics and elegant finishes, these garments and accessories definitely classified themselves as ‘Couture’ pieces.

The hardest part was working on my 1920’s “slouch.” (Ouch !)

Bundled in the warmth of the sweater, I was set for the cold January day. Only my feet were chilled. To fashion a Mary Jane style shoe, I safety pinned sewn strips of black linen to the inside of my regular black pumps. Effective, cheap, and temporary ─ no need to buy new shoes !

Nearly everyone I meet fawns over the fan purse I crocheted specifically for this opera. And the best part ? The cotton lining material is printed with opera glasses ! How neat is that ?!

An Art Deco Rigoletto allowed me to venture into a decade that has never suited my fashion tastes. But as with most bouts of historical costuming, I gained an appreciation and greater attraction to the bias-cut drop waist dresses of the time. I can’t say that the same treatment applied to Rigoletto was as appealing.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Rigoletto ─ Giuseppe Verdi (1851)
Live in HD air date: January 29, 2022

Cast:
Rigoletto ─ Quinn Kelsey
Gilda ─ Rosa Feola
Duke of Mantua ─ Piotr Beczała
Maddalena ─ Varduhi Abrahamyan
Sparafucile ─ Andrea Mastroni

Credits:
Conductor ─ Daniele Rustioni
Production ─ Bartlett Sher
Set Designer ─ Michael Yeargan
Costume Designer ─Catherine Zuber
Lighting Designer ─ Donald Holder
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Isabel Leonard

Otello

It was an easy decision. After my spellbinding first opera experience with Il Trovatore, I couldn’t wait to shell out another $24 at the ticket booth for a following Verdi tragedy 2 weeks later, Otello. Intriguingly, it was Otello that jumped out at me the most when viewing the Live in HD schedule in the summer of 2015: the drama based on Shakespeare’s play could have easily been my first opera. Thankfully, it wasn’t.

Aleksandrs Antonenko in a promotional photo for Verdi’s Otello / Metropolitan Opera

Bartlett Sher’s production, with frosted Lucite walls that were supposed to be a spoof from a quote by Verdi’s librettist about enclosing Otello in a glass house, mimicked frozen blocks of ice rather than the intended domicile of transparency. They were cold, lifeless, and ineffective from my point of view.

Željko Lučić as Iago in Otello / Metropolitan Opera

The cast was decent with a liquid Željko Lučić and a piercingly chill Sonya Yoncheva (fitting for the icy production), but I felt Otello suffered from an identity crisis: with his clothing and styling (not to mention his lack of blackface) just as drab as all the secondary characters and chorus, there was nothing to distinguish him among the throngs of people on stage. Shouldn’t he have looked more… Moorish ?

Dmitri Pittas (far right) as Cassio and Aleksandrs Antonenko (center) as Otello / Metropolitan Opera

While Desdemona’s final “Muoio innocente” was moving, I was left underwhelmed by the overall performance. Still, my exuberant, newfound interest in opera was undeterred by this small nick in the grand scheme of things.

Sonya Yoncheva as Desdemona in Otello / Metropolitan Opera

Dressing up for my first opera was almost as much fun as seeing the performance itself. There’s something vicarious and invigorating about feeling fancy as if you, yourself, are a part of the opera by the clothes you choose to wear. To my second opera, however, I wanted to “theme” my outfit for the sunny Venetian locale of Otello and Desdemona’s spotless disposition. “Something golden, something demure…” I mused.

Othello Relating His Adventures to Desdemona

The scarves and skirts of my closet were paraded in breezy seaside style as I toyed with layering and softly blending color schemes. I used my standby gold tank top, which I wore to Il Trovatore, and slipped on a long white linen skirt. Then the fun began. A metallic gold thread woven through the pinky-peach and cream striped scarf gave glints of gentility and coastal charm. When I tied its fringed ends together into a loose side knot, the effect was just right… at least for an outfit made from scarves and skirts !

A pair of lace gloves (thank you, Aunt Countess !), antique gold rings (such a faux pas when worn with gloves ─ fie, me !), and just the right assortment of necklaces and earrings helped me feel right at home as Desdemona. Do I look as if I’m about to be strangled ?

I styled my hair in a “twisted sections pinned up and back” sort of style. Nothing fancy, but very elegant when clipped together with a gold flower hair accessory.

An outfit for free, a better-than-front-row-seat ticket for $24… Enjoying the thrills of opera and the emulation of one of Shakespeare’s most virtuous heroines doesn’t have to be a ship-sinking occasion. If only the production of Otello had fared better…

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Otello ─ Giuseppe Verdi (1887)
Live in HD air date: October 17, 2015

Cast:
Otello ─ Aleksandrs Antonenko
Desdemona ─ Sonya Yoncheva
Iago ─ Željko Lučić
Emilia ─ Jennifer Johnson Cano
Cassio ─ Dmitri Pittas
Roderigo ─ Chad Shelton
Lodovico ─ Günther Groissböck
Montano ─ Jeff Mattsey
A herald ─ Tyler Duncan

Credits:
Conductor ─ Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Production ─ Bartlett Sher
Set Designer ─ Es Devlin
Costume Designer ─ Catherine Zuber
Lighting Designer ─ Donald Holder
Projection Designer ─ Luke Halls
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Eric Owens

L'Elisir d'Amore

Love potions and promises of love. A snookered bumpkin, a wealthy proprietress, and… a bottle of Bordeaux ? Rife with hijinks and hilarity, it’s hard not to love Donizetti’s bubbly comedy. As a part of the Met’s “Summer Encores” series, the biggest draw to this past performance of L’Elisir d’Amore was its stellar cast. And therefore, the decision to make the long trip to a distant theater to see Anna Netrebko and Matthew Polenzani perform was an easy one.

Anna Netrebko and Matthew Polenzani in L’Elisir d’Amore / Metropolitan Opera

Did I mention that L’Elisir was funny ? So hilarious was Matthew Polenzani’s “drunk” scene that I was half bent out of my seat, cackling with laughter. The sweat that poured from Nemorino’s brow as he danced around the town square with his magic “elixir of love” was enough to fill a bucket ! Surreptitiously, Matthew Polenzani dropped to the floor in an act of pleading desperation while furtively taking the moment to wipe his perspiring hands (and nearly his drenched head !) on the stationary skirt of Anna Netrebko’s lingering Adina ─ a clever improvisation. Too bad the snooty people in the theater could not see the comedy of the ruse… they barely chuckled ! Stiff crowd, but nothing could spoil my amusement.

Anna Netrebko as Adina and Matthew Polenzani as Nemorino in L’Elisir d’Amore / Metropolitan Opera

I should say that amid all the chicanery and cavorting, the opera ended in the manner in which all comedies must wrap: with a wedding and a happy outcome ! No one ever weeps by the end of a Donizetti bel canto romp.

Anna Netrebko as Adina, Mariusz Kwiecien as Belcore, and Ambrogio Maestri as Dulcamara in L’Elisir d’Amore / Metropolitan Opera

Adina, the opera’s heroine, is a wealthy landowner in the Basque region of France. In Bartlett Sher’s entertaining (and characteristically quirky) production, her attire consists of a peasant blouse, underbust corset, skirt, crop jacket with tails, and occasional top hat.

Mariusz Kwiecien as Belcore and Anna Netrebko as Adina in L’Elisir d’Amore / Metropolitan Opera

While the underbust corset and top hat were out of the question with such short notice, I felt I could pull together a knock-off look with garments I already had in my closets… and so I did ! The coral crinkle skirt has been in my mother’s closet for ages… who would have thought that it would be perfectly suitable for Adina ? And although my brown shawl can’t claim to be a crop jacket with tails, it certainly added to the coordinating color scheme of the model outfit worn in the opera.

But the real story belongs to the sashed blouse…

In 2004, my mother and I were bridesmaids in my aunt’s Colorado wedding where we wore matching peach satin skirts and ivory blouses with pearl buttons. Even as the years have passed, the two identical blouses have remained burrowed deep in our closets. Unsurprisingly, my original child’s blouse no longer fits… that is, unless I wanted to dress like Britney Spears from her “…Baby One More Time” music video.

Britney Spears in her “…Baby One More Time” music video

Maybe some other time…

For now, my mother’s blouse fits me fine and recalls to mind memories of my aunt’s autumn wedding day in Steamboat Springs. Here’s what the blouse looked like when paired with the peach skirt:

Look, 303 ! Doesn’t this bring back memories ?

A bridesmaid’s blouse worn as a costume to the opera ? That almost sounds like a crafty trick from L’Elisir d’Amore !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

L’Elisir d’Amore ─ Gaetano Donizetti (1832)
Live in HD air date: October 13, 2012
(Encore seen: June 29, 2016)

Cast:
Adina ─ Anna Netrebko
Nemorino ─ Matthew Polenzani
Belcore ─ Mariusz Kwiecien
Dulcamara ─ Ambrogio Maestri

Credits:
Conductor ─ Maurizio Benini
Production ─ Bartlett Sher
Set Designer ─ Michael Yeargan
Costume Designer ─ Catherine Zuber
Lighting Designer ─ Jennifer Tipton
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Deborah Voigt